Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Coming To Terms

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several conversations on other blogs and in e-mails about the extremely problematic and increasingly ridiculous subject of labels. To be brutally honest, I’m getting very tired of the whole thing.

I think over the course of the past two years I’ve called myself everything in the darn book: gay, ex-gay, chaste gay, homosexual, Side B, struggling homosexual, same-sex struggler, post-gay, and I think at one point I called myself a “gay monk” to a friend, which he thought was funny. I used to think that these labels mattered, but you know what? I’ve used every single one of those labels even though my basic beliefs and actions haven’t changed over the past two years.

Sure, I’ve made some mistakes, had some struggles, and my opinions have become a bit more evolved, but I really have been the exact same person over the past two years: a regular Christian guy who happens to like other guys, and who is chaste because of his understanding of Scripture and his desire to follow it. I was that guy in the moments when I called myself “ex-gay,” and I was that guy when I called myself “gay.”

Now granted, I know labels can be misleading. I don’t like to call myself “gay” and leave it at that. If I’ve gotten to a point in a relationship where I feel like telling someone that sort of thing, I usually through in “…but celibate” after that particular label, because otherwise it might give them the idea that I’m pursuing gay relationships, and I’m not.

But either way, I’m really not at the point where I want to argue about labels anymore. I’m not alone in this either. Courage Man linked to a great speech by Camille Paglia (one of my favorite writers), in which she expressed her annoyance with being labeled as a lesbian just because she is in a romantic relationship with a woman. She feels that it’s stifling and puts one in a sort of box. I agree. Sexuality labels are stifling, and even people, like Paglia, who aren’t Christians, can think so.

But here’s where it gets sticky. It’s not all about me. I may personally hate labels, but you know what? They aren’t for my benefit in the first place. Whatever theological-theoretical-post-modern ideas we have about language and meaning, the majority of the population doesn’t, so if we’re going to use a bunch of made-up (or simply ambiguous) words to describe ourselves, our ideologies, and our sex lives (or lack thereof) we need to be expressly clear about what we’re trying to say. Otherwise, we’re just going to be confusing people. I think Disputed Mutability wrote it best in a post of hers (which I humbly note that I helped inspire). ;-)

I think this issue isn’t just important in regards to how we represent ourselves to the world (and by “we,” I’m talking about guys who deal with same-sex attraction, which might be the most neutral term out there). It’s also important to us as a community of sorts. Labels have a tendency to split hairs that don’t need to be split. Seriously, let’s say we have a guy who calls himself “ex-gay” and a guy who calls himself a “Side B gay man.” They are the same age, are both attracted to men, both belong to the same denomination and have the same beliefs about Biblical sexuality, and both have been chaste for the same amount of time. They deal with the same struggles and everything. Why would they care how the other labels him when they are leading the exact same lifestyle?

Somehow, though, people (on both sides) do, and it kind of gets on my nerves. Why make distinctions between such phrases as “homosexual desire” and “same-sex attraction?” Why make such divisions over something as malleable as language? I personally don’t care what people call them, as long as they are being honest and frank about where they are in their journey. That’s right, I’m even okay with someone who calls himself “ex-gay” as long as he is expressly clear about what that means for him.

So at this point, to quote a hilarious secretary that I had the pleasure of working with recently, “I just don’t care, man.” I really don’t. I’ll do my best to tell people whom I am without having to rely on these ambiguous terms, and if I do use them, I’ll make sure to define exactly what I mean. I have far too many other struggles to worry about what four-letter word I’m currently using.

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